Days abroad: 306 Miles covered: 22,448 Countries lived in: 6 Favourite thing about being back: feeling safe and settled in our own home Worst thing about being back: traffic jams; the weather What I am loving: no longer feeling ill at ease in a female body; fast, reliable internet What I am grateful for: having had the courage to go away and the courage to return; my beautiful friends What I miss most: Asian food Items travelled with that were never used: mosquito nets, travel hairdryer
3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD
POST 17: 23rd July 2017, Cambridge, UK
So it’s been nearly three weeks since our return and I still don’t feel like we ever left. I kept putting off this final round-up blog in case things should suddenly change, but they haven’t! It’s really quite odd. We seem to have just slipped back into the life that was waiting for us patiently during our absence.
And it’s a perfect fit. At least physically if not mentally. In that it is actually relatively easy to resume a ‘home routine’ that you’ve had for years, even if it was disrupted by a spontaneous adventure lasting 10 months. Perhaps it really helped that we eased our way back into English culture via the European stepping stones of Greece and Spain. (Which was the plan.) And it definitely helps that I have been very mindful of our potential decompression period: social situations have been measured (family first) as well as staggered (only two visits to school). We only left the house once during our first week. We are taking things very slowly.
Or maybe being back is still exciting enough to hold my attention and the shock has merely been delayed? Because it does feel exciting! I am still finding great pleasure in how sheltered I feel by living within four walls that actually belong to me. There is still joy in wearing clothes that I haven’t worn for ages, in eating foods that I have been craving, in listening to Radio 4, in the constantly changing weather. And there is joy too behind the relief in not having to think or be constantly alert (albeit unconsciously) to new experiences. Because these take up so much mental bandwidth and whilst they are no doubt exhilarating they are also quietly exhausting.
Photo caption: the glorious coastline of Catalunia, my grandfather’s birthplace…
Maybe this excitement will pass and I will get restless again and crave the sense of freedom and adventure that has sustained us throughout the past year. But I’m not feeling that yet. Right now I feel safe and secure, comfortable and loved. And welcome! So many hugs; so many warm smiles! It’s been awesome to feel as though we’ve come home to our nest, that we belong, that we are no longer The Other (even if the sense of one’s own ‘culture’ encompasses such a wide range of differences).
Mentally however there have been changes. Big ones. But none that have provoked a sense of ‘readjustment’. Indeed, the changes we have witnessed in ourselves have almost made the term redundant. Because the biggest development has been in our ability to adapt. To go with the flow. To be at ease wherever we are.
The driving factor behind our year away was “a desire to break free of the matrix and our orderly, domestic life; to be spontaneous and step into the unknown; to see what else life had in store for us”. It was all about subtraction: about removing the redundant cultural, social and ancestral chaff to reveal our true authentic selves; to be free of outside influence.
Photo caption: ‘our’ beach with its medieval castle (top left); fisherman’s huts (top right); pine forests galore (bottom left); Mediterranean doorway (bottom right)
So did we succeed? Yes! It is so much easier to reflect upon who you really are and what is truly important to you when you have the time to do it and the distance from your own ‘stuff’ to be able to put it into perspective. It is far less scary to get used to not wearing a certain mask when you are surrounded by total strangers. Each new day, city and country is an opportunity to re-create your reality.
And did we come back different? Definitely. How different and in which ways? Well, in a nutshell, we are so much more ourselves than we were. Speaking for myself, I am far less needy of validation from external factors and I am far less influenced by them. I am more accepting of my imperfections rather than ashamed of them and I am more open to doing things differently. I am definitely more chilled, a lot less reliant on alcohol to ‘relax’ and I finally feel ‘enough’. I am less judgmental, more tolerant, more patient and generally happier. I live much more in now – less concerned with what could have happened in the past as well as with what might happen in future – and I am far less a victim of worthless mind chatter. Not bad, eh?
I am also much more at ease with the idea of receiving, with the notion of enjoying comfort and feeling pleasure. Which has resulted in a ruthless culling of what I now see as clutter. Because my definition of what is ‘necessary’ has also changed in line with this new attitude. Is it chipped, scuffed or cracked? It goes. Not because I am being extravagant, but because holding onto things that are ‘broken’ means energetically attracting more of the same. Moreover, I want only to be surrounded by usefulness, wholeness and beauty. So if it gives me pleasure, it stays. If not, however sentimental my attachment to it, however misplaced my loyalty, however much we may have paid to store it during our absence (a lot), or however many times it may have survived former house move culls, it goes. Which means that 5 estate car-load trips to the tip (with the back seats down no less) and 4 to Oxfam later, we are living in a much leaner household than before.
Photo caption: spending 10 months together slightly made us morph into one – here we each spontaneously wore the same colour scheme (top left); another birthday celebrated on the road complete with cake (top right), a home-made crown (bottom left) and a dinner in town (bottom right)
The kids have changed too. Especially 4 year-old Raphael who has had to make the biggest adjustment because he can’t actually remember having ever lived in only one place. After all, we were on the move for a quarter of his entire life! So stability is still a foreign concept for him: he describes himself as someone “that changes country a lot” and he keeps asking when we are next going to the airport. Which provokes a weird, dual state in me of both pitying as well as being proud of him.
And all three have matured in intangible ways, often more noticeable to others than to ourselves. One of our new neighbours asked us if we were foreign a couple of days after we had moved in, despite the kids speaking to each other in English. He said it was something about the way they were acting – their confidence, their ease in amongst their surroundings. Another commented that they looked as though they knew how to look after themselves. And despite feeling slightly triggered by this (was there a bad mother implication in there at all?) I chose to see both observations as compliments.
The after effects of spending 10 months abroad may definitely seem a little out of place at times, and certain new habits have had to be swiftly curtailed (eating rice with hands instead of cutlery for example, as well as going out onto the street in pyjamas/underwear at 6am) but I am actively encouraging others: such as the kids’ natural curiosity and chattiness with strangers, their openness, trust and easy affection. These are a joy to witness.
Photo caption: our return coincided with a street party just outside our front door! (top left); a long overdue family reunion with all my cousins and their new babies (top right); the river Cam a few minutes walk from where we live (bottom left); happy to have landed on British soil – a family portrait fresh off the plane at Stansted airport (bottom right)
So, is there anything that I missing from our time away? Yes! The heat, zipping about on a moped, Biryani rice, fertile jungles, unfamiliar bird song, local markets, having a private pool, swimming in the sea and open air yoga salas to name but a few. But not so much that I can’t wait until the Xmas holidays. When I hope to dust off the backpacks and unused mosquito nets and get back onto a plane for a new but slightly shorter adventure.
Because I’ve learnt that adventures don’t have to be mammoth undertakings. They don’t necessarily need to involve long-haul flights nor taking your kids out of school. Because spending just a couple of weeks surrounded by the unknown means that even the basics of daily life take on the allure of the exotic. And that is the key to creating an adventure: to immerse yourself in the new, in the unexpected, to stretch your sense of self, your boundaries and your values. For the benefits are immeasurably awesome.
But for now I am going to indulge in the lack of readjustment, in the surprising ease of our reintegration. I will slowly continue to appease my inner bourgeois – blueberries from Waitrose (even if they are out of season), diamond earrings and high heels, delicious European wine, riding my cargo bike – until the itch in my feet and the whisper from my inner bohemian can, once again, no longer be ignored.
And then, I shall be ready…
To see our entire, 10 month travel adventure route, click here!
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